Solar and wind keep getting cheaper as the field becomes smarter

The industries have gotten better at operating their facilities as solar and wind energy has increased. The experience can be seen in the financing of the facilities. People working in the fields have learned to be more efficient in order to reduce the cost of power. Mark Bolinger is a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the paper's authors.

People who operate these turbines get better as they do more of it. Bolinger told Ars that the same holds true for the workers who make the facilities. Some of them have been doing it for a long time.

He said there is a lot of literature on learning curve theory. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a single chip doubles each year. The learning rate in these renewable energy operations is the same as that. The learning rate is a measure of how much cost goes down when output doubles.

The learning rates in the solar and wind industries were studied. The researchers were able to calculate the levelized costs of energy for all of the wind and solar plants they studied. Bolinger says that LCOE is made up of several parts. The capital cost is the most important. The measure of how much energy the plant can produce each year is called the capacity factor. LCOE takes into account operating costs, tax rates, financing costs, and expected useful lifetimes of the plants. He said that LCOE was spreading costs across the entire lifetime of the plants.


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The team looked at data from more than 800 solar operations in the US. The plants are larger than 5 kilowatts. When the modern wind farm hit the US, the team collected data from now until 1982. The first utility-scale solar photovoltaic projects larger than fivemegawatts were built in the US in 2007. This data was studied until 2020 for both renewable sources.

The people who operate the solar and wind farms are learning how to do it more efficiently. He said the same thing for financing plants. The cost of financing is high when an industry is new. As experience in the industry grows, investors are willing to offer more competitive rates, which leads to lower costs. Learning can benefit from more than the upfront capital costs. All of the inputs can benefit from learning over time. All of them can make a difference.